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by John Boston

Oh groan. The lead story in the June 1962 Amazing is Thunder in Space by Lester del Rey. He’s been at this for 25 years and well knows that in space, no one can hear—oh, never mind. I know, it’s a metaphor—but’s it’s dumb in context and cliched regardless of context. Quickly turning the page, I'm slightly mollified, seeing that the story is about Cold War politics. My favorite!

Only a few weeks ago, one of my teachers assigned us all to write essays about current affairs, to be read to the rest of the class. Mine suggested that the government of China is no more to be found on Taiwan than the government of the United States is in London, and it might be wise to drop the current pretense keeping Taiwan in China’s United Nations seat, along with the fantasy of invading mainland China and reinstating Chiang Kai-shek to the power he couldn’t hold on to. After I had read this, one of the other students turned to me and said, “John . . . are you a communist?” I assured him I am not, but in hindsight, I should have said, “That’s right, Jimmy. I get my orders straight from Albania.”

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Science fiction is not prediction. It is extrapolation. No one can see the future, but a gifted writer can show you, dramatically, what will happen "if this goes on."

It's no surprise that science fiction writing has enjoyed a boom since 1950. Never has our world been on the brink of so many exciting and dangerous potentialities. On the positive side: space travel, automation by computers and robots, atomic energy. On the negative side: pollution, global warming, and atomic annihilation.

As a species, we stand on the edge of superabundance created by fewer and fewer people. It used to be that the vast majority of us made our living through subsistence farming. By the end of World War 2, the percentage of Americans employed in farming of all kinds was down to 14%, and since then, it has declined to about 8%. Over the next few decades, thanks to mechanization, the profession of farmer as we know it may cease to exist. We can expect the same trend to happen globally as the poorer parts of the world catch up.

What have we been doing now that we don't have to farm? Building things. By the end of the War, Blue-collar workers made up 40.7% of the labor force. As of 1959, they were down to 37%. This seems like a small dip, but the decline is consistent. Automation is getting cheaper every day, and it is pretty certain that the industrial sector will experience the same downturn as the agricultural sector.

Well, then, what is everyone else doing? White-collar workers, the professionals, the managers, the clerks, and those in sales, have grown in percentage of the work force from 35% in 1947 to around 42% last year. Moreover, service workers, both domestic and for-hire, have gone up from 10.4% to 12.2%. In other words, fewer people are using their hands and their backs to produce things. More are using their brains to produce...or entertain.

That's a snapshot at this place and time. What happens "if this goes on?"--when everyone has all the food and goods they need, what will people want? At what profession will people work? Will we all take turns serving each other at restaurants (until robo-waiters come into vogue)? Will we all write sonnets and paint pictures for each other in a sort of round-robin gift economy (until machines write songs and craft art better than we can)? Will we all become citizen-scientists, pioneering the limits of knowledge (before computers figure out ways to do it better and faster)? Or will we all ultimately end up loose-mouthed in a torpor watching endless robot-created television programs?

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)


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